Does your company have an employee handbook? If it does, is it written in a way that is firm, concise, and reasonable – or are some policies open to interpretation? In the event of a problem, a company handbook should resolve confusion, not create more.
By Lee Allphin, Employer Advantage Founder and Chairman of the Board
For years I officiated college football games. Each year, to maintain my status as an official, I had to take both a written and “on field” examination to determine my knowledge of the NCAA Football Rule Book. Officials, coaches and players are all expected to understand and abide by the rules set out in this manual. Without a clear consensus on what was allowed in the game, chaos would have prevailed. In the workplace, employee handbooks serve the same purpose – setting the groundwork for proper “gameplay” in the office.
Why Are Rule Books Important?
As a new business owner, rules can be a difficult thing to implement. At the beginning, you may be the only worker in your business. However, once you hire your first employee, rules need to be put in place. As in football, there are many reasons to have a set of written rules, but the most important one is clarity of communication with your employees. They need to understand what the business goals are and how you expect them to be achieved or maintained. They also need to understand the parameters they must follow to perform their daily duties, interact with coworkers, and represent your company positively.
It is important to remember these rules will not only be set by you and the needs of your business, but by the officials in the federal, state and local governments. There are numerous laws designed to assure safe and equitable behavior in the workplace, which is why a reliable written reference for what the boundaries are, and what the consequences would be for stepping outside of those boundaries, is so important. Just as you can’t move the endzone or sidelines in football, you can’t perform against employment regulations in business.
Do you have an employee handbook? If so, are you confident your employee handbook meets all of the current regulatory requirements? Here are some of the most important items a company handbook can communicate:
- An introduction of company values. A company welcome and mission statement set the standard for the employment relationship in general and provide a guidepost for the remaining policies communicated in the handbook. New employees will feel more confident working for a company whose culture is made clear at the outset.
- Guidance for employees on company processes. A handbook explains the organization’s policies and procedures, educating employees on how to go about certain job-related functions. For example, how to request time off, record travel expenses, or check out equipment.
- Expectations for the employee’s behavior. It is important for employees to understand what they are trusted to do each day regarding safety, timekeeping and reporting. By providing clear, accessible information, handbooks ensure companies continue moving in the right direction.
- Explanations of managerial roles. Employees need to know what they can expect from company leadership. With a handbook, everyone shares the same reference to objectives on matters such as timekeeping requirements, hours of work and pay periods.
- Advice for employees of their various entitlements. Federal and state leaves, such as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or Jury Service Leave, allow employees specific protections. Clearly communicated policies will help eliminate confusion and inconsistencies that result when handbooks are silent on these topics.
- Consistent rule application. No policy is effective if it is practiced inconsistently. A handbook accurately communicates your organization’s policies regarding employment, conduct and behavior, compensation and other policies and procedures you follow.
- A showcase for your benefits. A robust benefits package can help you retain your best and brightest employees, so be sure they know about your full suite of offerings by communicating these in the handbook.
- Federal and State law compliance. No matter what state you do business in or how many employees you have, you will be subject to state and federal employment laws. Your handbook not only communicates these various entitlements and obligations to employees but is useful in demonstrating that your organization strives to be compliant with these regulations.
- Where employees can turn for help. Ultimately, you want employees to feel comfortable turning to a trusted member of management for help when they want to report workplace violations, obtain workplace-related assistance and get answers to any other questions they may have. The alternative is for them to turn to an outside third party, like the EEOC or DOL, which could trigger a costly and time-consuming investigation. When a handbook not only outlines one or two management individuals for an employee to turn to in these situations, but also designates another individual to turn to in the event the employee disagrees with the first decision, they are more likely to keep their complaints in-house, and this is a good thing for employers.
- Defense against employee claims. Unfortunately, employers should consider it a matter of when, and not if, they will face a lawsuit or similar challenge from a current or former employee. When this happens, one of the most useful documents you can provide your attorney or third-party investigator will be a copy of your handbook. A thorough and compliant employee handbook will help to show that the organization exercised “reasonable care” towards its employees. The employee’s signed acknowledgement page will show that the employee had an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the organization’s policies, a chance to ask related questions, know whom they could turn to for help within the organization, and that they agreed to follow the terms and conditions of employment set forth by the organization.
With decades of Human Resource management experience, Employer Advantage has created clear, easy-to-read, and professionally written employee handbooks, policies, procedures, and practices for countless clients. We can also assist you in drafting your own fully compliant handbook. Either way, we periodically review your handbook to ensure it stays up to date with regulatory trends and the progress of your company.
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FREEDOM TO SUCCEED – Trusted for more than 30 years, Employer Advantage frees you from the administrative and compliance burdens of having employees so you can focus on your business success. Versatile enough for companies of all sizes, our unique service combines comprehensive management of your employee administration and compliance with the latest software solutions, tailored to meet your individual needs and company culture. Our full-service management of HR, payroll, health and benefits, workplace safety, and more, enhances your profitability while reducing the costs and risks associated with employment law compliance. We provide your employees with top-notch assistance and benefits that help you increase productivity, save time and money, and attract and retain a talented workforce. And for small and mid-sized businesses, we bring you economy of scale with access to Fortune-500-level benefits, specialty assistance, and savings that would not be possible to attain on your own. Headquartered in the Midwest and serving more than 400 companies and 10,000 worksite employees throughout the country, Employer Advantage is an IRS-Certified Professional Employer Organization (PEO) (C-PEO). Experienced, certified, and trusted.